The Stuntmen Who Blacklisted Blackface
Bill Cosby was outraged about working with white stunt doubles who were “painted down.” Half a century and many bumps and bruises later, a veteran crew of black stuntmen have flipped and flown their way into the annals of Hollywood.
Photo courtesy Black Stuntmen's Association
The “no” that started the movement was uttered one day in 1965 on the set of the television drama, “I Spy.”
On the show, Bill Cosby played a secret agent. Never before had a black man held a leading role on an American television drama. Casting Cosby was viewed as revolutionary — and controversial.
But another revolution began the day Cosby came face-to-face with his stunt double — a white man who had been painted black. They not only painted the man, they used a hue of makeup that didn’t even come close to Cosby’s brown skin color, as Cosby recalled to an audience at the 2008 Black Stuntmen’s Association reunion at Fitzgeralds Hotel in Las Vegas.
The makeup was black. “I mean pure D. black, ” Cosby told the audience, evoking laughter. It was so black the man’s lips looked bright red. Then they put a wig on his head and started to cut the wig, to approximate Cosby’s afro.
In a conversation with director Sheldon Leonard, Cosby learned that the stu…